August 20, 2004

Auto Racing: They come from miles around

World Series of Speed:
Jon Wennerberg from Michigan is one of the Speed Week attendees that live relatively close by

Salt Lake Tribune

BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS --Jon and Nancy Wennerberg drove 1,600 miles at 75 miles per hour to ride their Kawasaki racing motorcycle at more than 200 mph at the 56th annual Bonneville National Speed Trials.

Call it Salt Flats Fever --- After all, other speed merchants came from as far away as Japan, the United Kingdom and Canada for the weeklong festival that drew some 350 competitors according to officials from the sponsoring Southern California Timing Association.

So, a two-day sojourn for the Wennerbergs from Marquette, Mich., was "no big deal," said Jon Wennerberg. "You just don't get it ... this is the World Series, the Big Show. This is what many racing people dream of and most never get to do."

And most people don't get to -- or want to -- hunker down over the handle bars of a modified 2000 Kawasaki ZX-12 motorcycle for the sole purpose of being the fastest in the world in a specified class.

Wennerberg says he knows that "most folks will find this hokey, but really, the first time I drove down the salt, I had tears in my eyes. You push a lot of other people out here, and they would admit the same thing. They are thinking what I thought -- I'm here; I made it; if they could only see me now."

A lot of people are seeing Wennerberg, because one gains a lot of attention by flirting with speeds over 200 mph on a motorcycle. Wennerberg has done 217 mph, but not for a two-mile average required to break the 1350cc/MPS-F class record of 213.491.

The Kawasaki will do 225 mph based on current modifications, says crew chief Mike Dye of Charlotte, N.C. "So far, we've been testing on regular racing fuel. When we push the button with nitrous oxide fuel, we'll add 70 horsepower to the 220 we're making right now."

The motorcycle that was prepared by Lee's Performance Center in Charlotte is basically a stock, 500-pound product, says Dye.

"Except for the swing arm being extended six inches and the fact we've lowered the chassis about four inches. It's got all the hot rod stuff ... a stroker crank, bigger pistons, hot rod cams, special headwork. You know, bigger is better in racing."

Wennerberg has only been in racing "four or five years." He became the Eastern Land Speed Record Holder at Maxton, N.C., running 203.454 mph. "But that was a short track, with a one-mile buildup and a 132-foot long speed trap. Here, you feel you are at the Indy 500 without walls."

The 56-year-old Michigan entrepreneur who runs a confidential document destruction company on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, maintains his racing career is just starting since a recent survey revealed the median age of a land speed driver is the mid-50s. "That's because in your 30s and 40s, you can't afford it," he joked.

But 56 is a pretty ripe age to start driving (or riding) 200 mph. What's it like getting on a bike with no seat belt and no roll bar for protection?

"Well, the pucker factor is about 7.3," he said. Then, he offers this challenge: "Who hasn't gotten in a car and said, 'let's open her up and see what she'll do.'"

And how does the wife feel about her Mr. Daredevil on the five-foot long green missile?

"It doesn't bother me when he's on it. It bothers me when I'm on it. I've done 185 mph to get my B license. I'm working on my A license. That's 200 mph."

Pointing to her husband, Nancy Wennerberg said: "If he can do it, I can do it."

If she does do it, she will become the world's fastest female land speed motorcycle racer.

That's the reward for a 3,200-mile roundtrip from Michigan.

Reprinted without permission

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